Part 4: The Departure
The taxi-driver explained that the policeman wanted some money before he would let us pass. Unfortunately, such bribery is a matter of routine in Nigeria. I handed over some cash and we were waved onwards, towards the International airport in Lagos.
I had previously called and visited our airline office three times to confirm my flight, as I had been told that there were often problems with flight confirmations. I did not want to take any chances.
Once I arrived at the check-in desk I gave my ticket and passport to the airport official and he checked his list for my name, once, twice, and then once more. He appeared confused and looked at me, his gaze penetrating directly into my eyes, “No name,” he said. “Next!” The person in the queue behind barged me aside and I stood there, flabbergasted and wondering what I could to do to get on the plane.
Russell was at the next check-in counter and soon enough, he had the same bewildering experience. I was more than a little relieved to find that we were in the same leaking boat.
As we were standing around discussing the situation, a Nigerian man approached us and asked if we were on the flight list. When we said we were not he then told us that we must pay the airport official a ‘fee’ and then they would help us. The fee was placed at 1,000 Nigerian Naira each. We emptied our pockets and found we had around 1,500 Naira left between us. The man told us that we must give the money to him and that he would then discretely offer it to the airport official. We decided to go for broke and give the man the last of our money and hope that he didn’t run away with it. If he did we were in deep trouble, but there didn’t seem to be much of a choice. Fortunately, after handing him the money the man did quietly approach one airport official and discretely gave him our cash. After some thought the official nodded and we were told to get back in the queue.
While we were waiting in the queue again, we noticed a large sign behind the check-in desk that read,
‘CORRUPTION AND BRIBES WILL BE PROSECUTED’
Armed policemen were walking by as we read this sign and I wished at that moment that I had never seen the movie Midnight Express, the true story of American Billy Hayes who got a life sentence in Turkey for possession of hashish. I certainly wasn’t stupid enough to be carrying hashish, but I had no idea what the local laws were for foreigners caught bribing airport officials. Still, we had to catch that Midnight Express, we had to escape and go home.
Finally, we got back to the check-in desk and the official this time miraculously found our names on his list, accompanied by an Oscar-winning look of convincing surprise on his face. Before long we were relieved to be on the plane and heading back home, reflecting upon the past two months and trying to make sense of it all.
I still haven’t reached any tangible conclusions about the experiences that I had in Nigeria. But having said all that, I would not change a thing! I guess the old adage ‘when in Rome…’ is a philosophy that should not be taken lightly.
Go back to Part 3
By Jason J.R. Gaskell, Msc.
Jason Gaskell, MSc briefly worked in a corporate bank after graduation before putting a few belongings in a bag and deciding, instead, to teach for peanuts in Nigeria (payment also included yam, fish, and a mattress to sleep on). This experience proved to be something of an appetiser for travel and educating and he is currently teaching English in the more lucrative nation of South Korea.